Lily Brooks O’Briant: “Win the Room”

Win the Room. This is something that my mom told me before an audition one day. She told me that the most important thing to do in that audition, is not to win the role, but to win the room. If you make a good impression on the casting directors, they will remember you and […]

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Win the Room. This is something that my mom told me before an audition one day. She told me that the most important thing to do in that audition, is not to win the role, but to win the room. If you make a good impression on the casting directors, they will remember you and if you aren’t a perfect fit for that role, they will remember you for another role someday that is a perfect fit.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lily Brooks O’Briant.

Lily Brooks O’Briant is a multi-award-winning actress who is best known for her series regular role on the Netflix series “The Big Show Show”, where she plays the role of Mandy Wright. She is also known for starring as Young Dot in Amazon’s “The Tick”. Lily began her career as Matilda in the national tour of the Broadway production of “Matilda the Musical” and also starred alongside Dolph Lundgren in the 2015 film “Shark Lake”. Some of her other credits include playing the lead in the film “Marina”, where she won several awards for her portrayal as Marina, including a Wasserman Award and a New York City Film Festival Award. She was recently cast as Kylie in the television series “Mandated”. In her free time, Lily loves to give back and works with several charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Girl Rising (to raise awareness to educate girls across the world) and Heal the Bay beach cleanup.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you so much for having me! I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and I started taking dance and singing lessons at a very young age. I was also a baton twirler, and I was on the swim team! When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I went to a theatre production put on by my local community theatre and at intermission, I turned to my mom and said, “That’s what I want to do.” So my mom put me into some theatre camps and that is how I got into acting!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

After I started doing theatre camps, I started watching more TV and I realized that I wanted to be doing Film and TV as well as theatre acting. I went to my mom and asked her if I could do Film and TV acting and my mom told me ‘no’ because she didn’t know how to get me into the Film and TV industry. But after about 8 months of continuously asking my mom to put me into Film and TV acting and auditions, she signed me and my siblings up to do some background work in Atlanta. She assumed that since background acting is mostly just waiting around all day that I wouldn’t like it, but I had so much fun on set! One of the directors came up to my mom while they were filming and told her that I needed to get an agent and that I shouldn’t be doing background work and that I should be auditioning for roles. So I got an agent in Atlanta who I am still with today!

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your entertainment career?

It has been a journey for sure. I started out in local theatre in Memphis, Tennessee then did some film & TV in the South — my first professional ANYTHING was a lead role in a feature film with action hero star Dolph Lundgren, then I played ‘Matilda’ in the Broadway Tour of ‘Matilda the Musical’, then we lived in NYC for 3 years and now I am in LA focused on film & TV. I think the most interesting parts are the amazing people I have met along the way. But some highlights are — My first show as Matilda on the National Tour was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC — so cool. Two years ago, I drove across the country from NYC to LA in 5 days (it took an extra day because we had to go down to TN to get my sister who was at camp) with my mom, my brother, sister and our 60 pound Goldendoodle so I could make it in time to film THE BIG SHOW SHOW. THE BIG SHOW SHOW filmed at Paramount Studios on the same stage as The Lucy Show, Cheers, Frazier, and my dressing room was in the Lucy Bungalow that Lucille Ball had built so she could walk right from her dressing room to the stage. It was a pretty awesome experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first self-tape my mom taped for me when I was 8 years old — my mom filmed the tape in portrait mode instead of a landscape which is a big no-no. We didn’t know ANYTHING, but it was a great learning experience.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I just finished working on a theatre project with Katherine McPhee Foster, Bobby Thornton, Kevin Chamberlin & some other incredibly talented actors to preview a show that is headed to Broadway soon. I haven’t been able to do any theatre in over 2 years & had missed it. It was amazing to be a part of such an incredible show. I have some tv & film projects that I am working on and am writing a script for a short film that I am SO lucky that I will be able to direct and produce next spring or summer. The film is a coming-of-age, female-led story. I have wanted to learn more about directing and producing but was really inspired by the documentary ‘The Changes Everything’ that Geena Davis’s institute produced about how women are represented and depicted in Hollywood. I also have some exciting things planned for Team Young Hollywood to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Most young people your age don’t have to balance work and school. Can you tell us how you manage to balance your schoolwork, auditions, and time on set?

It isn’t easy. You do miss out on some things with friends, but I REALLY love acting. I fit more school in on Saturdays and Sundays because there are days that I have to focus on an audition, so I have to prioritize and catch up. I am really lucky that I attend an amazing school called Dwight Global that allows me flexibility. I took summer school last summer and this summer along with full loads during the year and will graduate a year early at age 16 from High School.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had help and mentoring from some amazing people. But the one person who has been there for me constantly throughout my career is my mom. My mom has moved heaven and earth to make sure that I have the opportunities and resources to achieve my dream. I am so grateful for everything that she has done for me. I seriously couldn’t do it without her.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s jump to the main part of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Acting is a journey. I have had to learn over time that Acting is a journey and a process that you need to trust. If you continue to work hard and perfect your craft, you will get there one day. You just can’t give up.
  • Tape it (or audition in the room) and forget it. This is something that my acting coach told me. Every time that you get a self-tape audition, put your all into that tape and work hard but as soon as you are done filming the self-tape, send it in and forget about it. Because, if we obsess over every audition that we have, there won’t be time for anything else.
  • Win the Room. This is something that my mom told me before an audition one day. She told me that the most important thing to do in that audition, is not to win the role, but to win the room. If you make a good impression on the casting directors, they will remember you and if you aren’t a perfect fit for that role, they will remember you for another role someday that is a perfect fit.
  • Improv is key. I have taken improv classes consistently since I was 8 years old. Improv is the root of all acting. If I didn’t have the Improv training that I have today, I wouldn’t be where I am as an actor. Learning how to be quick on your feet and learning how to come up with your own ideas and going with your gut instinct is SO important.
  • You can’t worry about anyone else but yourself. I can only control my own audition & my own acting. I can’t control what the casting directors or producers are looking for in a character & I can’t worry about who else is auditioning. I have to bring my very best to bring the character to life and that is all I need to focus on.

You are a person of enormous influence. How do you think you can use social media as a platform to be a positive influence to your fans, and for society at large?

I don’t know if I have an enormous influence, but I do try to highlight some amazing causes that are really important to me. I love being able to raise awareness for organizations that I hold very close to my heart Such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Heal the Bay (an organization that organizes beach clean-ups all along Southern California) & Girl Rising (an international organization that supports education for girls and young women). I started ‘Team Young Hollywood / Broadway’ to encourage some of my peers to learn more about the amazing work St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is doing to put an end to childhood cancer. Over the past 18 months, Team Young Hollywood has raised over 35,000 dollars for St. Jude through ‘Songs for St. Jude’ in Feb. 2020 and two virtual fundraisers this past year. I have had 3 family friends treated at St. Jude. Some things that are so special about St. Jude is that no family ever receives a bill for their child’s treatment and St. Jude shares its research with doctors and hospitals all over the world so that all children can have access to the life-saving findings. I hope that I am able to encourage more teens to spread the word and raise money to support the incredible lifesaving work that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital does.

If you had the ability to choose to work on any TV show or film, or work alongside any co-star, or with any director, what or who would that be, and why? You never know who might see this article, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would LOVE to work with Reese Witherspoon, or Lauren Graham. They are both such amazing actresses and I think that I could learn so much from both of them. I aspire to be a director and producer someday as well as an actress and I really look up to Reese Witherspoon as a producer.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Instagram at @lilybrooksobriant

On Twitter at @iamlilybrooks

Facebook at @lilybrooksobriant

Tik Tok @lilybrooksobriant

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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